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Curtains going down on the school chapter

6 Feb

As many of you know, I was in a 5 month intensive pastry program here in Paris. This meant, that 5 days a week, I was in a kitchen with 8 colleagues baking up a storm. Not bad to be me. Sadly, all things must come to an end and school had an end date. It also had a test. Oh my.

I didn’t have to apply by sending a cookie or a cake, but I couldn’t get my diploma without putting my practice to the test and in turn, get a grade. A grade from 2 MOF’s (masters in pastry) and a worldwide known chef, with impressive familial ties to the world of cuisine, Escoffier. Piece of cake – if you aren’t the one making the cake.

For our final, we had to prepare: pate a choux for éclairs and religieuse, pate a foncer for an apple tart, puff pastry for a pithiviers and chaussons aux pommes, crème anglaise for ice cream molds, an almond paste trio of roses, and, the ever fun, moka. Basics, that needed to prove we knew what we were doing and wouldn’t embarrass ourselves by calling us Patissieres. Easy enough, right? Oh, and we had one day to do it. And the 3 grading chefs? They were there the whole time, looking over our shoulders. As were our normal pastry chefs. Have I said oh my yet?

Luckily, we all did great. I spent a couple of days leading up to the exam practicing making roses quickly and piping the flames for a moka, as well as reviewing recipes and going over my pictures of each step of each recipe. While practicing and planning my timing for a pastry final wasn’t exactly like pulling the all-nighter I did the night before my biology final in college, the pressure was no less since this was again my future career on the line (biology didn’t pan out…not shocking). Plus, I was whipping cream by hand at home so I could practice piping. That’s hard!

Exam day came, I got to school early and my prep work served me well. I still need to work on the moka piping, but it went much better than my initial try!

Unmolding the crème anglaise ice cream…comic relief for the chefs that day.

The pithiviers, which proved to be a bit troublesome that day.

Apply tart – I knew I had this one, at least. Christmas helped me practice!

The dreaded Moka.

Religieuse, filled with a coffee pastry cream. Fondant and I are still getting to know each other.

And the éclairs, also with coffee pastry cream and awesome fondant. At least it was shiny!

And everything all together, for my final presentation, minus the ice cream. All the chefs complimented me on my work, so I felt quite relieved. Plus, I got a nice pat on my back when one of the MOF’s grabbed a couple of my chaussons on his way out after grading. I felt highly complimented!

So now my school chapter is done and I’m off to my internship tomorrow. Oh my…


You might be a vegetarian if…

6 Feb

…if you see this and don’t immediately think, “yum.”

That’s right guys, fresh scallops. I’m a veggie, but have no problems cooking meat for people who enjoy it. I like cooking, anything, so I can make a mean steak, a lovely turkey, and some delicious chicken parm (or so I hear, the people eating could just be nice). But I draw the line at this.

I had to shank a scallop, guys. After prying open the shell, you scrap him off his shell, scoop him out and then proceed to rip off the outer edge of this scallop’s body, leaving the meat that people eat. Knowing I wasn’t going to eat this and unsure who was going to eat it, I wasn’t pumped about it, but I’m a chef, so I went for it. I did ok at the start; the scallops clearly don’t like to be shanked, so they put a bit of a fight. But I got my 7 scallops out of their shells. With my chef’s assurance that they were dead by then, I started to take off their edges. I got through about 3 when, as I was holding it and pulling off the edges (or eyes…), the little guy pulsed.

I’m not accustomed to food moving as you are prepping it. I might have yelped, thrown my scallop, and backed off at that point. Maybe. That is an unconfirmed report. But seeing as we have a great traiteur chef, I suddenly had all 7 scallops cleaned and ready for the next step, as well as a chef who couldn’t stop laughing at me. Phew. Seeing as my friend in class and myself are both vegetarians, we were put on mirepoix duty after that while everyone else prepped more seafood. Believe me, I can de-shell cooked shrimp, take off the beard off of a mussel and, even on occasion, take lobster and crabs out of their shells for others to eat, but I was real glad all I had to do for a bit was chop some leeks and onions.

We were making a version of Coquilles St Jacques, so after prepping the scallops, we made pike quenelles (filet of pike, milk, flour, and eggs, blended together and then formed into ovals)…


…sautéed mushrooms…



…and a fish veloutee sauce (fish stock with shallots, white wine, water, butter, leeks, and the stuff we ripped off the scallops, then combine with juice of the mushrooms and mussels we cooked, milk, flour, butter, heavy cream, and salt and pepper to taste).

Once all of this was prepped and prepared, we starting to put the St Jacques back together.

Starting with a mussel and some salmon, you place the scallop in the center, surrounded with some shrimp and the pike quenelle. Add some of the mushrooms on top and you have the base of the meal.

Then you layer on the sauce, filling all gaps.

Pop it in the freezer for a couple of minutes, then add another layer of sauce. You want it to be very full. Another trip to the freezer, then you add a crust of bread crumbs and a slice of puff pastry, if you so please. I skipped the puff pastry, but liberally added the bread crumbs.

From here, the customer (or whoever eats this) takes it home and pops it in the oven to warm it up and toast the edges. Then its ready to eat! Me, I was still fearful of the pulsing scallop, so I skipped taking any home. From what I hear though, they came out really well and were a class favorite!

Breadbaker – Not the Same as Breadwinner

2 Feb

Difficult but oh so delicious.

My pastry program included some boulangerie class, so every few weeks, we would head to the boulangerie (either at the ungodly hour of 6:30am, or at 1pm to stay until 8 or so) and make baguettes, special breads, croissants, brioche…stuff my dreams are made of. Look at this. It is awesome.

We started out with the classic, a baguette. For this delicious treat, all you need is flour, water, salt and yeast. But you also need to test the temperature of the room and the flour to calculate the temperature needed for the water. You need to add the yeast after the water and flour have incorporated, but not too long after. You need to kneed at 2 speeds for specified times depending on the wanted bubbles on the inside of the bread, adding the salt at the right time at the end so the dough will reach the right temperature. You need to let it rest a few times. All while craving bread. Its hard.

We did it the first day by hand, to see how bakers used to do it. Granted, we only used a kilo of flour, when they used to use a whole lot more…

We got to this stage, of kneeding it, and realized this was a whole another world from pastry. Luckily, we only had to do it by hand once. Its hard, takes awhile, and is such a small amount. No good in a boulangerie! So we started using massive machines to work the dough for us.

After its rest in a big tub, we weigh the dough out and let it rest again.

After its nap, we form it into the baguette. You flatten it with your hand and then fold it in on itself, only then rolling it out to the correct length.

Once the right length, you put them on a conveyor-like belt, cut the tops at the correct angle (5 per baguette!) and roll them into the oven. I had issues with the oven – easy in theory, scary in practice. My whole bread dreams relied on doing this correctly! Think of the horror of no bread. Eek.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes now. The smell. Oh, the smell. I wanted to crawl into the oven and steal some bread right away, but I held off. For a bit. Because this is the reward!

Yum. Sometimes I couldn’t wait very long…

We got to take what we wanted, then the rest was either served in the student caf, or donated to local shelters. Walking home after boulangerie days always included a few baguettes in my bag…

After doing this a few times, playing with the various types of baguette (traditional, regular, fermented, poolish, etc), we were introduced to the world of special breads. This is anything from rye bread, to whole wheat, to bran, to sandwich bread, to sourdough, and so on. Similar in how the dough is made, just variations on ingredients, how the dough is shaped and the cuts on top.

We added chocolate to anything we possibly could. We’re pastry chefs. That’s how we do.

One day, we were messing around and added olives and cheese. YUM.

We even made bagels!

But we weren’t done with boulangerie. Oh no, far from it. We had to make dreamy, lovely croissant. Similar to puff pastry, but less turns. And the shaping. And the recipe. Ok, so not that similar, but close.

Just add a “little” bit of butter or margarine to the dough to be rolled out…

After the turns and the resting, you cut out the triangles for croissant, or rectangles for pain au chocolat.

You proof these guys for 2 hours, then its into the oven for heaven.

One of classes, Chef Maurice gave us free reign with the dough and we went wild. We added pistachio paste, almond cream, pastry cream, almonds, walnuts, chocolate, cinnamon and sugar. Pretty anything we could find in our lab that sounded remotely good. And good they were! Oh yum.

We were also taught about brioche and pain au lait, similar in the forms that were baked, but different in texture. We were braiding our breads mostly and I was very grateful for years of braiding hair and making friendship bracelets at this point. One of the few things I got in boulangerie right off the bat!

First off, a simple braid.

Then a 4 piece tresse.

And finally a 3-D bread.

After months of practicing these basic breads, as well as playing a bit with what we put into the bases, we were ready for our final. So, one day in December, we arrived at school at 6:30am, and started baking. We were to make traditional baguettes (4 kilos of flour, for baguettes and rolls), croissant and pain au chocolat (500 grams of flour, so 10 croissant, and 9 pain au chocolat), braid 2 brioche (one in a simple tresse or braid, one in the more complicated 4 string natte), and a special bread of our choosing (I went with brown bran bread). All by ourselves. And we had to be done by 12:30, at the latest. It was a lot, with timing needed not only for ourselves but with the people in our lab who also needed the same machines and ovens. But we all made it!

Here was my best, which I offered up to be graded. Not the best I’ve done, but I finished it all, which was my goal. Grades were based on if someone would buy our goods. I argue that some desperate person somewhere will always buy bread. Namely me. But I tried to be a bit discerning and I ended up doing well in boulangerie! Guess love for what the end result will be helps out the process.

The goodness that is a boulangerie final. It smelled incredible in there. I almost didn’t leave, but luckily, I grabbed a huge goody bag full of bread to hold me over for a few days.

Chocolate Architecture. Eek.

30 Jan

In a rare cross-over that actually was useful to my future as a pastry chef, my art class at school gave us a homework assignment that we would later be creating in the kitchen. Initially, we were to build a box out of chocolate to put more chocolates in, so we had to draw what we wanted to do.

Sounds sort of delicious in the end, but oh, God, art class. I gave it my best shot and came up with this.

Fine, done.

Except that our teacher neglected to mention we were to draw a holiday-themed chocolate structure, 30 cm x 30 cm base, which would include a box to hold approximately 15 chocolates. Ok, round 2 of drawing.

Considering art is not something I’m very good at (PS – thanks to my oldest sister, who conveniently decided to take the entire family’s art skills), and we weren’t sure what we could build or how long we would have to do it, I thought it was a valiant effort. My art teacher disagreed. So I tried again. Yes, round 3.

Pretty simple and straightforward, right?

Fail again. Still not acceptable to my art teacher, so I go for number 4.

Less stuff, pretty easy I thought. Ha.

Let’s just say I left art class, knowing this still wasn’t right and I would have to go into the kitchen with no real idea of what I was going to do and see what would happen. After drawing all of this (which is a lot for me – and embarrassing to post, but it was a lot of work for someone who will never get to be a struggling artist in this sense), I was still clueless.

First day of chocolate sculptures, we were simply making our cardboard molds to make the chocolate pieces. So, arts and crafts day. I used to be pretty good at arts and crafts; I remember some stellar pipe-cleaner structures that I was proud to have created. But me being me, I hurt my thumb cutting all the cardboard and am only now starting to have feeling again in my thumb. It may never be the same and keeps reminding me of this stupid art process. But that holds no bearing on my chocolate sculpture process, so let me continue.

Second day of chocolate sculptures, we tempered about 75 million kilos of chocolate (I’m not good with the metric system yet, so this could be a slight exaggeration) and filled our molds to be put together the following day. I had changed my mind on my base, making it a solid base with a relief of pine trees, so the theory being I would have one single tree with stars on the top, as if the tree was coming out of a forest. Sounds good, huh? I’m creative, if nothing else. Too bad it looked bad, so I took a hot knife to it, scared my chef with my recklessness, and cut off the sides to make it more like a slate slab. Creative, remember that. It just doesn’t always come out right…

Anyway, here’s all my pieces, ready and waiting to be put together.

The cone, to be covered. Looks a bit like a witch’s hat. I liked it.

And all my stars to cover my perfectly tempered and shiny cone. I put a little make-up on it all, because I like the stuff. Little known secret among my friends and family (it was even glittery make-up! I had to!).

Starting to build on day 3…looking more and more like a witch’s hat.

The tree is completed! Hot chocolate used as glue to put all my glittery, made-up stars on my cone helped keep it all together.

Then I put my box on the sculpture, which was my favorite part of the whole ridiculous looking thing. Yes, more sparkly bits were used.

At this point, I wanted to toss my tree out and just put the box, but that’s not an option. I did toss out the legs though, because they looked silly. But here it was, all together. Done in 3 days, start to finish, woohoo!

Here are some of my classmates. Their planning proved to be key, as their pieces are quite lovely. And by quite lovely, I mean gorgeous.

All in all, a fun thing to go through, but I needed more time to do what I wanted. At least I got to include glittery make-up and eat all the chocolate I could possibly stomach as I made the little guy. Yum!

So this is Heaven.

17 Dec


More yum.

Still lots of yum.

A brief shot of what one of my weeks look like. It was our chocolate bonbon week, after a brief interlude of making chocolate egg sculptures (the first ones, not so pretty…but we were practicing!). The egg sculpture week, while really fun to do and great practice with tempering, wasn’t quite as tasty.

This past week, 10 different chocolate bonbons were created from some delicious ingredients. We made ganaches, tempered chocolate, poured/scraped/melted and in general, made a mess which resulted in us ending up with approximately 20kg of chocolates. Only 10kg ended up on our aprons, I think.

It was heaven.

First up, we made an anis-cannelle (anise and cinnamon flavored) chocolate ganache filling. Here’s my spices, spicing up my cream.

And then with the chocolate, poured into a mold to set up.

Once it was set, we spray gunned the block with a thin layer of chocolate (later, to be the base of the bonbon)…I love this spray gun. So does Chef. Here he is, spraying all his chocolate fillings. All of our soft centered chocolates were coated with this chocolate layer, to make the dipping easier. Well, getting the dipped chocolate off our forks easier.

The second chocolate was a lemon and basil flavored chocolate ganache filling, called a Garrigue – a bit too basil-y for me, but such a lovely idea. I plan on playing with this one in the future. Here we have basil infusing the cream. Lemon zest is also in there, with lemon juice to be added later.

Once the ganache was set, with its thin layer of chocolate, this too was onto the guitar to be split into even pieces. Here’s the guitar in action!


We also made a pistachio and almond paste filled bonbon, called an Aladin. These were super delicious, and in no way has my love of all things pistachio influenced my opinion.

We rolled these guys into little bite sized balls…

…then flattened them…

…and finally cut them into perfect little circles, to later be dipped in their chocolate coating. I claimed this one.

One of the sweeter bonbons was called a Baiser Vole, or a “secret kiss”. It was a passion fruit-apricot and hazelnut praline ganache filling. I felt quite fancy for being able to pull this one off, I must say.

First layer – passion fruit and apricot. Delicious.

We then layered on a hazelnut praline, which we had made the previous week, and chocolate ganache. This is the stuff of dreams. Hazelnut praline is magic.

Side shot:

Into the guitar, ready to be dipped in chocolate…

Moving along, we come to the Hesperide. Not my cup of tea, but that’s because I’m not a huge fruit-pieces-in-bonbons-type, but it was a delicious filling. It starts with our chocolate molds getting a thing coating of chocolate.

In this goes a little layer of apples cooked with butter, sugar and a liquor called Calvados. Hmmm.

Then comes the milk chocolate and caramel ganache, flavored with Calvados again. This ganache was incredible. I ate some with a spoon…but if there had been vanilla ice cream anywhere, it would have been gone before it had time to go on the chocolates.


Then we covered the bottom with more chocolate, to seal our bonbon. One, done and done!

Another of my favorites was the Palerme. Any clue why? More hazelnut ganache! This wasn’t the praline, just a hazelnut flavored chocolate ganache. Super delish.




…and then let it set up!

The chocolate is calling me from my countertop, must have a piece…

Ok, back. We then made a Palets Or, a coffee and cognac flavored ganache, piped into circles and then flattened, waiting to be covered in chocolate. You have to be quick with the piping, because the ganache starts to set and then you can’t flatten them in time. Oh the glory of chocolate being temperamental…

We also made Schuberts. When Chef asked if we knew Schubert, my partner responded with “I know a Seibert, but not any Schubert.” I found this hilarious. Isn’t kitchen humor awesome? Please say yes.

Right. Anyway…Schuberts. They are orange and almond paste fillings, with a milk chocolate ganache swirl on top.

We made 55 of these suckers, each.

Good thing, too. They were awesome.

Then, we made the classic truffle! Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, cream, and whisky. All in a bite size. Wow.

We piped them out, first (just 80 each this time).

Then rolled them into little truffle balls, coated in cocoa powder.

Then, since we’re pastry chefs, we dipped them in chocolate again and rolled them around in more coco powder, so the shell would be hard and they would keep longer.

Our last one was an Orangette, simple and delicious. Candied orange zest, dipped in chocolate. I ate half while making them, and the other half on the walk home from school. Oops.

With some of our chocolates fully made, we got to the process of covering our fillings. All chocolate was tempered (melting chocolate to 55°, spreading it out on cold marble and keep it constantly moving to cool it to 29°, then bringing the temp back up to 31°, so that it will be super shiny! This is where most of us got covered in chocolate), then the fillings were lovingly dipped individually with our special chocolate forks, and topped in their individual way. It was one of my favorite things to do, but some of my classmates didn’t agree. Crazies.

Some shots of the process:

The insides.


Setting down to set.

Palets Or, with plastic on top to smooth out the bonbons.

Decorating the tops, before the chocolate fully sets.

Final product!

My box, ready to go home with me.

And the rest of our boxes, ready for gifts and to be sold through our school’s store.

After this, we made more chocolate eggs. I made sure to have chocolates nearby, so that with the smell everywhere, I didn’t eat my sculpture. But here’s my work. White chocolate egg, with white chocolate lily, painted with glitter of course.

When the white molding chocolate didn’t set and actually started melting (so sad…so very, very sad), I made a quick dark chocolate flower before the final presentation. Not as pretty, but still fun!

If at all possible, I love chocolate more now. It was hard work, getting it right, but the feeling when you did was so worth it. Loved it! Plus, I have 2 boxes of chocolates to take on the plane with me. Considering I will be flying for about 21 hours or so, I wonder how much will be left when I arrive…